Book Review: 3rd i
High energy poetry and torrential writing.
— The Age
Leave all your assumptions behind about the way poetry should work or look when you pick up this book. Basil Eliades writes like a painter and paints like a poet. This is form on a mission, words strained to the limit of elasticity.Take a deep breath, and plunge in!
– Dr David Reiter
Basil Eliades writes huge thoughts contained within delicious language…
yet at the same time nothing is contained. These are poems that go beyond the limits of words. By wrestling with the poems in 3rd i, by engaging with them, the world is more intensely lived. This guy is offering us everything. This is heroic poetry.
– John Marsden
Book Review: 3rd i
In Eastern philosophies like Hinduism and Buddhism, the third eye is the symbol of enlightenment – the inner realm of consciousness. By spelling the title with the singular pronoun, Eliades begins the book with word play that alerts that reader to the intimate nature of the poetry.
The subject matter of 3rd i traverses the line between the visible, the audible, and the referential. The meaning that arises from each piece is, at times, as simple as a moment of shared passion, or as complex as the birth of the universe and the meaning of life. In most instances, they are both at the same time:
The printed rain,
the proving sun,
the weight of our last privilege –
from chaos, stars emerge,
they spin themselves from nothingness
without the anchor of our beliefs
& become heroes,
our frail perception of the brittle / elasticity of our connection
reveals so much in the moment it fails;
a separate reality vibrates within reach. (“3rd i”, 37)
Each word provides a duality of meaning that points to a micro perspective — the here and now of loving, breathing, parenting, and a macro perspective — the world growing in meaning and actually becoming itself through these simple acts. Most of the poems in this collection are big; almost epic in their scope, such as the title poem: “We warn tragedy away/by breathing.” (“3rd i”, 38) Although I haven’t heard the CD version of this, I can almost imagine the godlike voice of the poet booming out meaning through language — the word made flesh.
Despite the grandeur, the “rapacious sea of grief”; the “self saturated turmoil”; “the profound depths” of Eliades’ oceans, there is also an almost painful intimacy contained within this work. The meaning making in 3rd i has little to do with magic – there is no smoke, no tardis, wands, or even God. The alchemy is created out of the stuff that happens in every life – sex, love, childbirth, or even “a cicada husk”:
To shield us and our unknowing moments
From the possibilities of dogma, tv, and sect.
My jesus is a small dead fly.
My jesus is withered lizard.
My jesus is cicada husk.
My jesus is a wing frame. (“for the nuns, St Monica’s, footscray”, 39)
This metamorphosis happens everywhere, in the “fare vending boxes” that take us to “parks and gardens”; in the eidetic memory of the meditator; in the gaps between words; in the sweaty palm to palm of early love, the later disintegration of love, and above all, in the amazing (“no hands!”) biology of a growing human embryo:
Tonight you are knitting a nest,
weaving a magnificent
cephalopod of a placenta
internally, no hands!
merely tuning in and turning on
a mandebrot set of cells towards each other,
allowing their incalculable sums
in embryonic pools of serum,
in the fernery of your womb.(“dressing the nursery”, 5)
The poems are often funny — sometimes subtly, as in “the Success bridges” which plays with male expectations, working in Manley-Hopkins styled Sprung rhythm: “peer-driven, dad-demanded”. The poem slowly spirals to a single syllable, italicised “court.” “the Success bridges” uses formal language to construct a picture of government, and maintains a balance between slightly old-fashioned regality, and self-mockery: “plying gloss and soaps for barter/ inattentive to the end.” The humour is more overt in poems like “crying Wolf”: “Now whipped, baffled and failing,/Because you refuse to play.” (62). None of the poems are easy, though, and multiple readings, with the odd looked up word, repay the reader with increased depth.
Sometimes Eliades’ cuts across genre – combining music with words and art to produce a complete work that is all of these things and something else entirely. “brett whiteley, Internuncio” should be irritating with its musical direction on the left annotating the poetry on the right. But in this case, there is so much respect for the artist, so much knowledge of colour, image, light, that it all comes together perfectly in this portrait of the human legend, mingling with his work:
Mod, mf A dissolute broth of a boy, a will nebulous as gospel,
His soul in respose bird-resolute,
Like a sphere. (16)
The poems in 3rd i are dense, even at their simplest, and in most cases, form and meaning work together beautifully. There are a few poems where the Eliades gilds the lily however, cutting his gorgeous words into pieces of word play which impede rather than create meaning. In “eden”, words break down: call and answer, hint at things like arguments, relationships, and the exhaustion of new parenting, but are too obtuse in the end with their chopping and dropping to give up something complete. The reader is left cut off from the poem’s meaning. Similarly, with tongue-in-cheek, the Derrida-inspired “Especially 187” does little more for the reader than cleverly confirm the obtuseness of semiotics. Though it pokes fun at Lemmata, perhaps rightly so, it isn’t really any less obtuse, or less difficult, than what it’s poking fun at:
That’s enough, sufficient, satis, and ‘satire of the abyss’
Its foreign-language titled vogue,
Mute coffin keeps the last word mute
What arrogance, / finally, phew! (35)
Eliades can be forgiven a little self-indulgent fun though, because the lapses are few, and when he moves away from the cleverness, he produces such intense imagery – bringing the reader into such close intimacy, that there is that sense of seeing something familiar in a completely new light. At its best, and it is often at its best, this book provides the reader with exactly what the title suggests: a true third eye/i experience – a whole new way of seeing both the world, and ourselves:
Adhere, preserve this:
to taste your tongue is to coalesce from liquid to solid,
threaten the stable self,
and embrace the front. (“kundalini rising”, 17)
– Maggie Ball, Blogcritics
CD Review: 3rd i
I reviewed the book version of 3rd i about a year ago, and since then, have been given a CD version. Listening to the music after reading the book is a curious and altogether different experience. One of the key differences is that, when reading silently, I hear the work in my own voice. When listening, I’m struck by the forceful exuberance of Eliades’ own vision. Poems that might come through as quiet and reflective on my own reading, come through as loud, strong, and excited in Eliades’. His emphases often differ from mine, and force me to focus on a word; a phrase; or a linguistic twist that I might have missed. There’s a powerful intertwining between the husky impact of Eliades’ voice as an instrument, and other effects used, such as vocal layering, echo, music and pure percussion.
The book has 50 poems, while the CD has 22, including two versions of “why”. “why” both opens and closes the CD and presents a kind of parenthesis to the work – forcing the reader to think about both meanings of the word “I read” – that is, reading for oneself, and reading aloud, which is more akin to the process of creating in the way it comes through on this CD. The increasing speed and power of the reading, coupled with percussion and a powerful sense of linguistic ecstasy, sets a tone that permeates this CD. The lines are, at times, so extraordinary, that the listener wants a moment to reflect, but there are no pauses here — “the skin of existence is translucent” or “because, daily, I forget how lovely breathing is”. Life comes at you fast, and you have to pick up the beauty of each moment as you’re propelled along between the mundane and the extraordinary. Reading the poem in the book is a much slower experience, but “why” works perfectly as a performance. Eliades shoots these magnificent words at the listener — a shotgun of powerful imagery which only slows on the last word: “delicious”.
Most of the poems on this CD are spoken, and Eliades’ delivery is powerful; moving through the spectrum of emotion, and commanding a response from the reader. Sometimes he speaks tenderly, as if to a loved one. In poems like “Kundalini rising”, the reader is both part of the “we” and addressed as “you”. The pain and pleasure of life is a tremendous war – the place where we move from passive to active:
Adhere, preserve this:
To taste your tongue is to coalesce from liquid to solid,
Threaten the stable self,
And embrace the front
At times the poetry is more detached, as in the sexy exploration of Brett Whitely (“brett whitely, Internuncio”), which is a completely different piece spoken than it is on paper. Here we lose the arrangement of words, with the slightly ironic notations on the left hand side, and gain the actual delivery in those tones. In many ways, without those notes, this poem becomes almost overly rich – slurping at the marrow or fornicating through collage. It’s as visual as a Whitely painting, but done in words, looking at process as art, rather than the finished product.
A number of poems on this CD also have the addition of music. Alfred Abraham is the muso behind Eliades’ words, and his work is superbly matched to the poems. Although the backing music is striking at times, combining percussion with strings in a way that creates its own non-verbal meaning, the music always allows the words to lead, emphasising the increase in intensity, or bringing the pieces back towards contemplation. It is always a complimentary, rather than competing force. “essence and form” is one piece that is so well engineered, that it changes from an tight analytical poem to one which is lyrical enough to be a true song. It helps that Eliades is a talented performer, and moves beautifully between the whispered, slightly detached paternal opening and closing, and the intense intimacy in the middle (“self saturated turmoil”). The poem moves in great waves –literal and metaphoric — between drowning and swimming. I liked the poem when I first read it in the book, but listening to it with Eliades echoing vocals and the Red Hot Chili Peppers sounding guitar riff that drives it along, is a whole new experience. As with all of the poems, Eliades’ enunciation is exact, and his renditions bring out the strength of each carefully chosen word, the rhymes and alliterations, creating new meaning. As with much of Eliades’ work, this poem is both reflective and subjective – both about the personal struggle for meaning, and the way an artist makes meaning with art. The metaphoric and literal are perfectly balanced, and the experience of listening to this as a song is extremely powerful. This is definitely one that belongs on the radio.
“episodic memory for two voices” is also a completely new experience, extended through the hypnotic percussion and guitar, and the very subtle inclusion of the additional vocals of Vanessa Lee. So well blended is Vanessa’s voice that I couldn’t hear it – but I did note the slightly richer, deeper sound as the work progressed. In this poem, singular and plural stanzas alternate, creating a new space in that gap between individual struggle and collective meaning making. In the verbal version, we lose the neat positioning of words on a page, but we gain the vocal spaces, and the poem is stretched out by repeated musical refrains. The ending to this poem is handled superbly as the music drives us towards the most wonderfully drawn out “flow”.
There’s not a single poem on this CD that is unpleasant to listen to, and all are delivered beautifully, with the skill of a great actor. Though never simple, Eliades’ work is always accessible to the reader, but more so when read aloud. The rhyme and alliteration are made stronger, and the tonal quality of his voice draws out meaning. In “3rd i”, for example, the title poem, we have a godlike/poet’s voice which is capable of whispering, shouting, seducing, and directing. It celebrates the power of poetry, both to make our lives immortal, but also to turn the simplest of moments into the most extraordinary: “we warn tragedy away by breathing.”
For a lover of the kind of complex poetry that Eliades writes, there will never be a substitute for the slow, repeated reading of words on a page. But listening to this CD is indeed a completely different experience – one where you can chant along, or allow lines to permeate directly into you while driving. Listening to Basil Eliades deliver his exquisite lines with breathless excitement, sincerity and elan, is indeed, delicious.
– Magdalena Ball